High-speed rail

In­fra­struc­ture bank stud­ied as fund­ing op­tion for link be­tween Van­cou­ver and U.S. north­west

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - BY ANDY BLATCH­FORD

Washington state is ex­plor­ing whether Canada’s new in­fra­struc­ture bank could help fi­nance a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar pro­posal for high-speed rail be­tween Van­cou­ver and the U.S. north­west.

The Trudeau govern­ment’s soon-to-be-launched, $35-bil­lion in­fra­struc­ture bank will seek to use pub­lic funds as lever­age to at­tract bil­lions more in pri­vate in­vest­ment for ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture projects, such as bridges, tran­sit sys­tems and rail lines.

The leg­isla­tive blue­print for the in­fra­struc­ture bank also al­lows for the use pub­lic money to help bankroll projects “in Canada or partly in Canada,” pro­vided there’s a fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit and a phys­i­cal con­nec­tion to the coun­try.

The state of Washington has taken no­tice.

It’s look­ing at the in­fra­struc­ture bank as a po­ten­tial fi­nanc­ing op­tion for a long-dis­cussed high-speed rail con­nec­tion be­tween Port­land, Seattle and Van­cou­ver, says one of the gover­nor’s se­nior pol­icy ad­vis­ers.

Charles Knut­son, an ad­viser for Washington Gov. Jay In­slee, said Ot­tawa’s in­fra­struc­ture bank will be an­a­lyzed as a fi­nanc­ing op­tion in an on­go­ing fea­si­bil­ity study for the rail pro­posal.

Ear­lier this year, In­slee com­mit­ted US$1 mil­lion to­wards a cost-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis of the “ul­tra high-speed” rail line that would see trains run at speeds of at least 400 km/h. The fi­nal re­port is due in De­cem­ber.

“We’ve heard from some of our Cana­dian coun­ter­parts that that’s a tool that we could ex­plore and we’re open to look­ing into that fur­ther,” Knut­son told The Cana­dian Press in an in­ter­view.

“The fact that it is some­thing that could sup­port cross-bor­der projects seems to be a good match, but we’d need to know more.”

He added that the cost-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis will pro­vide a bet­ter sense of the scope of the project and help de­ter­mine what kinds of fi­nanc­ing op­tions would be avail­able.

The high-speed rail link has sup­port from po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in the re­gion and from the busi­ness com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing high-tech gi­ant Mi­crosoft. They see it as part of a broader plan to deepen re­gional eco­nomic ties and con­trib­ute to a Seattle Van­cou­ver tech­nol­ogy net­work dubbed the Cas­ca­dia In­no­va­tion Cor­ri­dor.

Knut­son, who at­tended a meet­ing be­tween In­slee and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau in May, said they dis­cussed the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits of the high­speed rail project, in­clud­ing con­struc­tion jobs, bet­ter work­force mo­bil­ity and re­duced road traf­fic.

“They both ex­pressed their sup­port for ul­tra high-speed rail that could im­prove con­nec­tiv­ity, help grow busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties on both sides of the bor­der,” he said.

“They talked about how this is an idea that’s time has come.”

Knut­son said he doesn’t specif­i­cally re­call hear­ing the in­fra­struc­ture bank come up dur­ing the dis­cus­sion, but noted other Cana­dian lead­ers have spo­ken about it with In­slee.

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